Page 110 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
of Wonders.
Here Appelfeld doesn’t focus on a community o f peo­
ple as in
Badenheim,
but on a family, evoking the atmosphere o f
attenuated catastrophe that hovers over Jews who are drawn
dream-like to their inexorable end. The inexorability o f events
curtails the freedom o f the characters, narrows choices to a mini­
mum and ultimately makes the novel cyclical ra ther than open-
ended. The evocation o f the historical evil becomes a metaphor
of the human condition. The extreme circumstances, the immi­
nence o f death confront every man with his mortality. Every
movement, thought and gesture takes on ultimate meaning, sur­
realistic weight in light o f the fate that hovers near. Here as in his
o ther works, Appelfeld portrays the subtle variations o f human
response to this existential situation.
The book
The Age o f Wonders
consists o f two novelettes inextri­
cably bound together. The first portrays the life o f an Austrian-
Jewish family in the years immediately preceding the war. In the
second novelette, the only survivor of the family returns to visit
his hometown many years after the war. The silence in these sto­
ries is not the elemental silence o f
Tzili
reflecting the superfluity
of language in the face of primal experiences, but ra ther the si­
lence of terro r where language has become inadequate. The si­
lence looms largest in the gap; it is most marked by the absence o f
a middle o f the story. The “before” and “after” o f the Holocaust
are portrayed, but the ho rro r and obscenity o f the events them ­
selves do not surface. Appelfeld creates a structure where every
event prefigures events to come. As in a musical composition,
themes and images repeat themselves, interweave and heighten,
but the crescendo takes place out o f earshot — in transit trains
and labor camps, in the Auschwitz we never witness. Harold
Fisch sees in this violation o f the A risto telian p a t te rn o f
Beginning, Middle, and End, a breakdown that shows that the
traditional mimetic form cannot be applied to the Holocaust.11
The continuity o f the novel is broken in the face o f horror.
In “The Age of Wonders,” the first and title story, we follow the
fate o f a highly intellectual middle-class family as it is seen
th rough the eyes o f the son, the ch ild-narra tor. Mediation
through a child-narrator, where events are recorded but not fully
comprehended, helps to evoke the experience — the au ra of
11 “A Time for Silence and a Time for Speaking — On ‘The Age o f Wonders’”
(Hebrew),
Zehut,
no. 1, 1980.